Two Brothers is a graphic novel adaptation of Brazilian novelist Milton Hatoum’s book The Brothers. Published by Dark Horse Comics and written by multiple Eisner Award winners (and real life brothers) Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, this book tells the story of Yaqub and Omar, two Brazilians of Middle-Eastern descent. A childhood fight causes early resentment between them. As they grow apart over time, both physically and emotionally, the turmoil of their feud begins to tear the family apart: a microcosm of the spiritual changes in the hearts and minds of Brazil during a time of radical upheaval.
Moon and Ba weave this highly emotional tale brilliantly, opening the prologue with haunting images of the various locations where the story will take place, but completely empty, devoid of the souls that will inhabit them; we are treated to pages of empty silence. Then the prologue shows us the boys’ mother, Zana, in her old age, when a single question dominates her mind, “Have my sons made their peace with each other yet?” It is a question that will carry the reader through the whole book.
North American comic book readers, accustomed to the hyper reality of superheroes and science-fiction that makes up the majority of the medium, may have a difficult time getting into the black and white ink style of Moon and Ba; but if they give it a chance it will be worth it. The use of simple shapes makes the characters visually fascinating, the faces are alive and vibrant, the movement ranging from violent to gentle with ease. This is a story told through light and shadows, with characters being concealed in both.
Comic book readers may also have difficulty adjusting to the writing style. It is lifted (translated) from the original novel, so most of the story takes place through narration, told from the point of view of a young boy who may be the son of one of the two brothers. But the way the story weaves multiple narratives throughout the book, with the different characters relaying their stories to the narrator, the reader is endured to an ensemble of startling realized characters.
This is not a book for children. With adult themes, messages, and images this book earns a mature rating, but it is never done exploitatively. The sex and nudity featured is always intentional, creating atmospheres of intimacy, vulnerability, exposure, and honesty. The coarse language is nuanced and serves to heighten the situations. The violence is both physical and emotional, and all the scars and bruises feel as though they run deep.
Two Brothers is an amazing story, worthy of a place on any distinguished bookshelf. It serves as a companion to the original novel, while incorporating brilliant artistry in its visual execution. It is a sensually human story, sure to evoke a strong reaction from any reader.